Best Single Action Revolvers: Not Just for Cowboys

by Travis Pike

July 1, 2023

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Certain types of icons often get associated with their country of origin. We know samurai are Japanese, knights are European, and Americans get the cowboy. The classic cowboy wields a classic weapon, the six-gun. More precisely, the single-action revolver. In reality, they likely wielded lever action rifles and could have easily carried a double action revolver, but the iconography is that of the Colt Single Action Army and single action revolvers in general. 

Single-action revolvers are named as such because the trigger only does one thing. It releases the hammer. The user has to manually cock the hammer, which also rotates the cylinder. Then, when the user pulls the trigger, the gun fires. It’s very simple. A double-action revolver uses a trigger that cocks and fires the weapon. 

Single-action revolvers were largely replaced in military and police service by modern double-action designs around the turn of the century. Revolvers, in general, have faded away and often only have niche uses. Small-frame revolvers are the most popular modern revolver for concealed carry. Yet, single-action revolvers haven’t faded away completely. 

In fact, they remain fairly popular. Enough so that we can make a best-of list examining the current market and the best on it. In fact, I had to fight to limit it to seven guns. It turns out that when you are a niche product that excels in certain roles, you tend not to have many stinkers in your genre. 

Why Are They Still Relevant

Single-action revolvers still kick around for a few reasons. One of the most interesting to me is something known as SASS or the Single Action Shooting Society. These folks use period-correct guns and replicas in a competitive environment. They dress up like cowboys and shoot in environments that replicate the Old West. 

Think of it as Cowboy 3-gun, where the handguns are single-action revolvers, the shotguns have two barrels, and the rifles operate with a lever. It’s fairly big as a sport, and many of the modern cowboy guns we have these days are produced for this type of sport and competition shooting. 

Another famed use is by handgun hunters. Handgun hunters often use large and powerful calibers, and that isolated them to revolvers. Single actions are often preferred for their simplicity and design. The light trigger helps with accuracy, and I’ve even heard some say the gun cocking is quieter. I find that tough to believe, but the phrase ‘deer jumping the string’ exists for a reason. 

The single-action design also supports a grip that really helps the user absorb recoil comfortably. While it helps with calibers like .44 Magnum, it really makes a big difference when we get into calibers like .454 Casull, 480 Ruger, and others beyond magnum rounds. 

Single-action revolvers also tend to be great training options for new shooters. A little .22LR revolver with a single-action design often makes it very easy for new shooters to safely learn the basics of shooting a handgun. The fact the gun can only fire after the hammer is manually cocked helps take some of the human factors when it comes to safety. 

While safety rules should be strictly enforced, the nature of the gun makes it difficult to accidentally fire. Or at least more difficult than other guns. I actually learned on an old cheap Sauer in .22LR that was an absolute blast as a kid. 

With all this in mind, I gathered a variety of revolvers that are perfect for playing cowboy, hunting, and teaching new shooters. 

Gun University’s Best Single Action Revolvers

Best Single Action Revolver

Heritage Rough Rider
  • Manual Safety Included
  • Easily Swappable to .22 Magnum or .22LR
  • Numerous Models Available
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Ruger Blackhawk
  • Classic Style With Modern Features
  • Convertible Cylinder Options
  • Adjustable Sights
Check Price
Magnum Research BFR
  • Short and Logn Cylinder Options
  • Bisley Grip Design
  • Modular Design
Check Price
Taylor and Company 1873 TC9
  • Cheap To Shoot
  • Affordable Design
  • Tons of Fun
Check Price
Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy
  • Designed for Competition
  • Custom Tuned
  • Classic Western Design
Check Price
Freedom Arms Model 83
  • Semi-Custom Revolvers
  • Bisley Grip
  • Modular
Check Price
Colt Single Action Army
  • THE Cowboy Revolver
  • Tuned Actions
  • Fixed Sights
Check Price

Best Single Action Revolvers Specifications

Below is a table of the specs for each revolver. Click the name of the item to jump to that review.

RevolverCaliberCapacityBarrel LengthWeightSights
Heritage Rough Rider22LR/22 Magnum63-16 in 32 oz (Varies slightly by barrel length)Fixed
Ruger Blackhawk.357 Mag, .41 Mag, .45 Colt, .44 Special, .30 Carbine (and more)64.62 – 7.5 in 40 oz (Varies by Caliber/Barrel Length)Adjustable
Magnum Research BFR Everything from .357 Magnum to .30-305/65 -10 in59.2 – 84.8 ozAdjustable
Taylor's and Company TC9 18739mm6 4.75 – 5.5 in40 ozFixed
Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy.357 Mag and .45 Colt6 4.75 and 5.5 in 36.8 oz Fixed
Freedom Arms Model 83Too Many To List6 4.75 – 10 in Variable Adjustable
Colt Single Action Army .45 Colt6 4.75 – 7.5 in 36.96 oz Fixed

Best Single Action Revolvers

Here is our list for the best Single Action Revolvers:

  1. Heritage Rough Rider
  2. Ruger Blackhawk
  3. Magnum Research BFR
  4. Taylor and Company 1873 9mm
  5. Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy
  6. Freedom Arms Model 83
  7. Colt Single Action Army

Best Single Action Revolvers – Reviews

Here are the detailed reviews of all the single action revolvers in our best of list.  

#1 Heritage Arms Rough Rider

Heritage Arms Rough Rider

Heritage Arms Rough Rider

An affordable single action revolver chambered in 22LR

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value A+

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Heritage Rough Rider Specs

  • Caliber 22LR/22 Magnum
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 3-16 in
  • Weight 32 oz (Varies slightly by barrel length)
  • Sights Fixed

Heritage Rough Rider Review

The Heritage Manufacturing Rough Rider series is likely a generation’s first handgun. These simple rimfire revolvers have been around forever and are incredibly affordable. In fact, during some hot sales, they cost less than a hundred bucks. They often cost less than 200 dollars on a bad day. They are very simple single-action revolvers that are perfect for new shooters and a ton of fun for everyone. I’m not ashamed to own several of these guns. 

The Rough Rider series comes in numerous barrel lengths and various finishes and grip designs. Some are practical, like the 4.5-inch and 6-inch barrels, and some are silly, like the great big 16-inch model. Shooters can easily drop in a Magnum cylinder to switch from .22LR to .22 Magnum. Models like the Tactical Cowboy offer a red dot rail and a threaded barrel for fun. 

They are quite reliable and go bang whenever you cock them. They barely recoil and are comfy for shooters of any skill level to shoot with. Additionally, for new shooters, they use a manual safety that allows a hot and cocked gun to be rendered safe just in case. Decocking a single action isn’t always a great idea for new shooters and can be tough for those with smaller hands. 

The Heritage Rough Rider series are affordable, reliable, fun to shoot, and safe. The wide variety makes them easily appealing to all manner of shooters. They are just plinkers and often have rather simple sights, but for the money, it’s tough to expect more. 

Heritage Rough Rider Pros and Cons

  • Easy To Shoot
  • Tons of Options Available
  • Super affordable
  • Simple sights limit accuracy

Heritage Rough Rider Deals

#2 Ruger Blackhawk

Ruger Blackhawk

Revolver hunting is a heck of a sport. Be sure you’re equipped with only the best like the Ruger Blackhawk.

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  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

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A-

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 8 Reviews

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Ruger Blackhawk Specs

  • Caliber .357 Mag, .41 Mag, .45 Colt, .44 Special, .30 Carbine (and more)
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 4.62 – 7.5 in
  • Weight 40 oz (Varies by Caliber/Barrel Length)
  • Sights Adjustable

Ruger Blackhawk Review

The Ruger Blackhawk series are classic in the single-action industry. The standard Blackhawks are available in a variety of calibers, with the Super Blackhawk chambering the much more powerful magnum calibers. The standard Blackhawk is a very versatile and effective way to get into single-action revolvers. These are very well-made guns that are not unaffordable. They are well suited for hunting and target shooting. 

The Blackhawk series are well-balanced, lightweight, and easy to wield. They can be used for medium game and as bear and big cat medicine with the right caliber. Luckily the caliber selections are broad from the stock standard .357 Magnum to the criminally underrated .41 Magnum and even the oddball .30 Carbine. There is most certainly a caliber for you. 

Ruger makes these weapons shoot and handle much like a classic cowboy-style revolver. The grip angle and design certainly harken back to the Old West. This provides a great answer to recoil and comfort. At the same time, modern features like adjustable rear sights and a very visible front sight give the gun great capability. 

Good sights, a clean and crisp trigger combined with a cold hammer forged barrel make the Blackhawk exceptionally accurate. One of my favorite experiences was shooting a .38 Special through a Blackhawk with an uncle. I was a kid at the time, and the Blackhawk was so easy to shoot accurately for me. To this day, the gun holds a special place in my heart. 

Ruger Blackhawk Pros and Cons

  • Accuracy –Exceptionally Accurate
  • Sights –Awesome Sights
  • Calibers –Broad Caliber Selection
  • Availability –Certain calibers are tough to find

Ruger Blackhawk Deals

#3 MAGNUM RESEARCH BFR

BFR

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

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A

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Magnum Research BFR Specs

  • Caliber Everything from .357 Magnum to .30-30
  • Capacity 5/6
  • Barrel Length 5 -10 in
  • Weight 59.2 – 84.8 oz
  • Sights Adjustable

Magnum Research BFR Review

If you want a reliable, well-made, and dependable hunting revolver with the biggest cartridges out there, then the Magnum Research BFR is for you. Magnum Research, famed creators of the Desert Eagle, also make a series of revolvers that are extremely well made. BFR is a cheeky name that most certainly standards for Biggest, Finest, Revolver, and certainly nothing else. These guns come in either long or short-cylinder models. The difference is the calibers they chamber. 

Short cylinder covers your basics, like the .357 Magnum, the .44 Magnum, up to .550 Linebaugh. The long cylinder model chambered rounds traditionally aimed at rifles like the .30-30, the .350 Legend, the .45/70 as well as the .410 and .500 S&W Magnum. The various barrel lengths range from five inches to 10 inches, with 6.5 and 7.5-inch models falling in between. Additionally, shooters can even choose BFRs with ventilated ribs if they so choose. 

These revolvers are aimed at medium to big game hunting and bear defense. They chambered big, heavy calibers that can rip through ide, muscle, and fat to reach something vital and humanely take the animal. To ensure excellent accuracy, you get a set of modern sights and even the easy addition of optics. A long eye relief scope or a red dot really makes fast, accurate shots a possibility. 

To help handle recoil, Magnum Research uses the Bisley-style grip. This old-school design is slightly different than most cowboy grips and helps manage recoil in a superior fashion. It really pushes the recoil to the shoulder, which saves hands and wrists. My first big bore experience was with a  BFR in .454 Casull, and I was pleasantly surprised by the recoil. It seemed like a Model 29 in .44 Magnum. 

Magnum Research BFR Pros and Cons

  • Optics Ready Design
  • Recoil Ready Design
  • Perfect for Medium to Big game
  • Expensive

Magnum Research BFR Deals

#4 Taylor’s and Company TC9 1873

Taylor's and Company TC9 1873 Feature Image

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Taylor and Company TC9 1873 Specs

  • Caliber 9mm
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 4.75 – 5.5 in
  • Weight 40 oz
  • Sights Fixed

Taylor and Company TC9 1873 Review

I love classic cowboy-style revolvers. I love the .45 Colt, but ask me how much I shoot them. Not often. Why? Because .45 Colt is so expensive and tough to find. It’s tough to justify spending a ton of time and money on a .45 Colt when I should be training with my 9mm handgun. When Taylor and Company announced the TC9 variant of their 1873 line, I was ready and willing to jump on one. 

The TC9 is a Colt single-action clone that’s chambers din 9mm. If you aren’t familiar, 9mm is a very affordable centerfire cartridge that’s extremely common. I’ve shot my TC9 a ton because I can afford to and enjoy doing so. This might not be SASS legal, but it’s a fun plinker that doesn’t break the bank. It’s also a very affordable and fun gun to shoot. You can play cowboy and enjoy it without having to shove over a buck a round for 45 Colt. 

It’s not exactly a useless caliber, but admittedly six rounds of 9mm is a tough sell in such a large gun for practical use. It really is a simple, fun gun. It lacks any fancy sights, and in fact, I found the front sight positioned too high, and it needs a good filing, but I could still shoot it with a single hand quite accurately and consistently. It’s a fun gun with an affordable price tag and affordable ammo. 

Taylor and Company TC9 1873 Pros and Cons

  • Affordable Ammo
  • Low Recoil
  • Easy Shooting
  • Heavy for a 9mm

Taylor and Company TC9 1873 Deals

#5 Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy

Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy Feature Image

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Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy Specs

  • Caliber .357 Mag and .45 Colt
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 4.75 and 5.5 in
  • Weight 36.8 oz
  • Sights Fixed

Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy Review

If you do want to jump head first into Single Action competition shooting, the Evil Roy has your back. In SASS and Cowboy Action Shooting and similar sports, you not only shoot a competition, but you adopt a character. Evil Roy was one such character who became an absolute legend in the community. He has backed a number of firearms in his career, and the Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy is one of the most famous. 

The Evil Roy model is a Colt SAA clone, and Cimarron Produces it in 45 LC and .357 Magnum with barrel lengths ranging from 4.75 and 5.5 inches. They are optimized for competition shooting with a constant width front sight and wider rear trench. The grip is thinned out for a better grip and more control over the gun. Oh, and Cimarron works over the action to provide a smoother trigger pull and better reliability. 

This is one of my grail guns, and if I ever take the plunge into Cowboy Action Shooting, this will be my gun of choice. It’s very well made, smartly designed, and you can feel the difference. Even as a cowboy hobbyist, I can feel the difference in quality between the Evil Roy and its competitors.  

Cimarron Firearms are the masters of cowboy guns, and Evil Roy is the master of cowboy shooters, so their partnership has gifted the world one finally made revolver. These well-tuned, easy-shooting guns are perfect for SASS and ready out of the box for success. It’s even fairly priced for a tuned competition revolver. 

Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy Pros and Cons

  • Excellent Trigger
  • Great Sights
  • Excellent Accuracy
  • Limited Production Runs

Cimarron Firearms Evil Roy Deals

#6 Freedom Arms Model 83

Freedom Arms Model 83 Featured Image

Freedom Arms Model 83

A high end, made to order, single action revolver featuring a sliding bar safety.

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Freedom Arms Model 83 Specs

  • Caliber Too Many To List
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 4.75 – 10 in
  • Weight Variable
  • Sights Adjustable

Freedom Arms Model 83 Review

If you want a premium single-action revolver experience, then Freedom Arms is the brand for you. Freedom Arms makes a number of high-end single-action revolvers, and the 83 is my favorite, with the 97 trailing closely behind. Freedom Arms makes semi-custom revolvers. They are all hand built to very specific specifications and designed to be extremely robust, reliable, and accurate. 

These are guns designed for handgun hunting, and they come in a wide variety of calibers. Some I’ve never even seen, like the .500 Wyoming Express. Alongside some oddballs are standards like .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum. They even make a .22LR variant. Depending on the model, you can even swap cylinders to swap calibers, for example, the .454 Casull model can accept .45 Colt and .45 ACP cylinders, and the .357 model can fit a 9mm cylinder. 

They feature the famed Bisley grip for better recoil control and less wrist-breaking design. It really rolls the recoil of something like a .454 Casull down your arm. The big front sight is easily seen through the adjustable rear sight. Getting a good sight picture isn’t difficult. You can also add an optic mount and various red dots or long eye relief scopes. 

These are the definition of premium. You order one and wait for it most time. You can also add a number of custom options, like a tuned trigger, different finishes, grips, shortened nonstandard barrel lengths, and even an octagonal barrel if you really want your revolver to have a unique style. These guns are predictably quite expensive, and that is where you might feel your pain. 

Freedom Arms Model 83 Pros and Cons

  • Extremely robust
  • Very Accurate
  • Surprisingly Modular
  • That Price Tag

Freedom Arms Model 83 Deals

#7 Colt Single Action Army

Colt Single Action Army Featured Image

Colt Single Action Army

Perhaps the most well known single action revolver ever made.

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Colt Single Action Army Specs

  • Caliber .45 Colt
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 4.75 – 7.5 in
  • Weight 36.96 oz
  • Sights Fixed

Colt Single Action Army Review

Let’s take it back to the original cowboy gun. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t the first revolver or even the first metallic-cylinder revolver, but it is the one that defined the genre. The Colt Single Action Army is THE cowboy revolver, at least according to Western books, movies, and video games. It was certainly one of the best revolvers and served its country well. The Colt SAA is the gun many of the revolvers on this list aim to copy. 

Not only are there tons of these guns on the used market in tons of calibers and configurations, but Colt still makes them. Well, makes them occasionally. New models in .45 Colt are produced to this day but in very limited runs. The fact that Colt first designed and produced this gun well over one hundred and fifty years ago and is still in production says something. That something is that people love this gun. 

You can easily find a clone of the firearm, but this is a chance to own a real Colt SAA, and that’s pretty flippin’ cool. As you’d expect, these are premium-grade variants of Colt’s famed firearm. They are not stock standard revolvers designed for cowboys. They certainly have their collector’s value and are made for Colt enthusiasts. As you’d imagine, they are great shooters, but it’s rare to see someone shooting. For such a smooth shooting and sweet pistol, it’s a shame that so many become safe queens. 

Colt Single Action Army Pros and Cons

  • It’s a Real Colt SAA
  • Smooth Shooter
  • Beautiful Design
  • Tough to Find

Colt Single Action Army Deals

Singled Out 

Single-action revolvers will likely never truly fade away. Their benefits tend to lend themselves to specific niches that hardcore shooters enjoy. They can be fun to shoot, effective to hunt with, and perfect for new shooters. They do offer one of those tactile feelings that are quite satisfied with the clicks of the hammer as it’s pulled back. 

There will always be something awesome about cocking the hammer, assuming that one-handed cowboy shooting style and letting big heavy projectiles fly. The classic design and its association with the American cowboy will never fade away, and that’s often enough to justify the purchase. 

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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